Well, yes, they’re animals

A Peak District farmer has been forced to give up his “gentle” highland cattle after a single dog walker complained that they felt unsafe around the herd.

Alex Birch, 32, has roamed his 27-strong herd on Baslow Edge in the Peak District for 40 years, ever since his grandfather David Thorp first introduced them to the land as a young man.

Walkers in the national park regularly encountered the red-haired cattle, described as “the most photographed cows in the world”, as they grazed on the bracken.

They were even the face of BBC Look North’s weather programme.

But ramblers cannot find the animals on Baslow Edge anymore, as Mr Birch has been forced to sell and slaughter his cattle following a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from an anonymous dog walker.

The complaint stressed concern after a walker claimed that one of the highland cows attempted to attack their dog.

One complaint about maybe an attempt?


One thing I don’t know. Is this private land? Or a commons?

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37 thoughts on “Well, yes, they’re animals”

  1. Private land I think. The issue is that a footpath runs through the field he was keeping them in. The Health & Safety Executive apparently prohibited him from keeping them in the field when they had calves.

    Elsewhere he is quoted as saying they were there more for sentimental reasons than financial reasons, and he claims he didn’t have anywhere else to put them (personally I doubt that; he clearly has other land if they aren’t his main earner) so sent them off the the abattoir.

    Not sure why fencing the footpath off wasn’t an option. Maybe he just didn’t fancy the work.

    As someone who has farming ancestors – I rarely believe moaning farmers without proper evidence. There are some very tough things about the business, but they’ll have you believe they are selling sheep for the price of a crisp packet whilst driving around in a new Range Rover.

  2. Enough with the argument ad hominem. The principle is that a man, or woman, shouldn’t be forced to do something by an organ of the state without proper process. An anonymous unverified complaint forcing a complete change doesn’t have much weight behind it. I therefore conclude it’s the precautionary principle at work again….. it might happen therefore it will happen therefore its most obvious cause must be banned.

    Was the dog on a lead and on the path?

  3. Tim, it’s a combination of private and common land where the cattle are grazed. When I’m back home for weekends, Miss Bannister and I often go walking in that area with dog and have never had an issue with the Highland Cattle.

  4. It’s a sheep farming area, high moors where the sheep are left to roam. I guess most of the land is not privately owned.

    While the area is overrun with dog walkers and crazed outdoors types from Sheffield and Manchester at the weekend, my money is on the anonymous complainant being someone with a personal grudge.

  5. The farmer was doing this not merely before he was a glint in the milkman’s eye, but when the milkman was still at school?

    Reminds me of Monty Python’s Yorkshire men.

  6. Gngngn, reminds me of people moving into farming villages and then complaining about cocks crowing. Or moving next to a bell tower and trying to get the bells turned off.

  7. Sounds to me like the farmer chose voluntarily to get rid of them rather than being forced to by HSE or anybody. No doubt the single complaint was the final motivation that they were more hassle than they were worth. But cows attacking dogs (and their walkers) is a well known issue and frequently happens but I’ve not heard of any prosecutions or evidence of the state doing much other than issue advice to dog walkers (let your dog off the lead and fend for themselves if being attacked).

  8. He was doing well to farm them there for forty years if he’s only thirty-two.

    If they can’t even get that right I doubt everything else about this story. Not that dog walkers up from the city (maybe) are never ludicrous dickheads, nor that the HSE aren’t cunts.

  9. Bloke in North Dorset

    A few years ago I was hiking between Falmouth and Helford and came across a note on a kissing gate which said something like:

    “The cows in this field are bored. You’ll be the most interesting thing they will see today and they will wander over to talk to you. They are harmless and if you walk faster they will walk faster. Talk to them and they will be happy.”

    I didn’t get to test it as the field was empty but as a general rule I stay clear of cows in fields:


    6.Since 2000 there have been 74 fatalities involving cattle recorded by HSE.

    7.Eighteen of these fatal accidents have involved members of the public, the remainder [56] have been fatal accidents involving people at work.

    8. Of the 18 members of the public,all were present on public footpaths or commonly used rights of way, all but one were accompanied by a dog and with exception of one man who had wandered away from a family group, all were lone walkers or accompanied by one other person. Additionally, of the 18, only one was under the age of 50 and 13 were over the age of 60.

    9.Where the information is recorded 10 of these accidents involved cows with calves. Only one involved a bull, although this was subsequently not proven in court.

    10.The remaining 56 fatalities involved workers engaged in farm work, farmers, farm workers and other staff. Seven were under the age of 50 and 37 were over the age of 60. Seven were over the age of 80.

    Its noteworthy how many times dogs are involved.

  10. @Ned Lud – you beat me to it!

    @Ben S – my old cricket club was forced to erect giant nets and pay vast insurance after some twat bought the pub which had stood on the other side of the lane from the long-off boundary since the early days of the club and suddenly realised people are allowed to hit sixes.

    Karmically, he lost the club’s trade, which was not insignificant, esp since numbers of the lads live in the village and stopped using the place completely.

    He went bust, but the nets and insurance remain, sadly.

  11. National trust has ginger shortbread cattle (as i call them) on several of its dog walking hotspots. ISo they must be fine with it. But got to admit gave me a shock when i first walked into a mini herd.

  12. My aunt was one of the leading beef farmers in the UK – sent bull spunk all over the world on account of her herd’s provenance, won all sorts of trophies etc. She was nearly killed by one of her bulls, which knelt on her. (This is generally how they do it.) Busted ribs, perforated liver, lung damage, it was nasty. They’re big fuckers.

    I grew up around cattle and rurality and I am not remotely afraid of them, but I am respectful. In fields full of cattle I keep my dog close and I walk close enough to the edge that I can get over/into the hedge if necessary.

  13. Bloke in North Dorset,

    When I was a lad we used to go fishing on the River Nene and to get to our spot we’d have to cross a bullock field. Being boys, we’d go up to them, goad them and then leg it. Tremendous fun.

  14. It seems that the land in question is owned (or maybe long term leased) by the National Trust, and the farmer is the tenant of the NT, and it is they who have decreed that the cattle must go, based on what is probably a letter of ‘advice’ from the HSE. It is definitely the case that the HSE cannot force landowners to remove cattle with calves from land crossed by footpaths, otherwise farmers all over the country would have their farms ruined, as livestock would have hardly anywhere to go, there’s that many footpaths. The only legal restriction is is on certain breed of bull (dairy bulls may not be put in fields with footpaths, as they are known to be more aggressive than beef bulls), but as long as the cattle in question have no history of aggressive behaviour then there is no legal way a landowner can be forced to remove them.

    This will be a case of the HSE ‘advising’, the NT’s insurer then threatening they wouldn’t pay up etc for any accidents, and then the NT deciding to get rid of the problem by telling their tenant to remove the cattle. Chalk up another case of the lawyers ruining the country. Plus the type of people who run the NT hate farmers anyway, so they won’t have been minded to go into bat for their tenant anyway.

  15. Jim, that’s probably about right. The Highland Cattle are pretty docile and generally ignore us whenever we have been walking up Baslow Edge.

  16. Interested: He was doing well to farm them there for forty years if he’s only thirty-two.

    Yes and this was a bit rich: “Mr Birch has been forced to sell and slaughter his cattle”. Not his to slaughter at that stage, surely.

  17. When I go hill walking, I dress up in my traje de luces and carry a cape and a couple of swords. That, and the funny hat, normally scares the shit out of the cattle, and they leave me alone!

    Incidentally, what was the chestnut about the Frenchman who lost his beret on the way home from the bar via a field full of cows? Just how many berets did he try on in the dark before he found the right one? Boom, boom!

  18. Bloke in North Dorset

    I played golf match at a club in Bushy a few years ago. When we got to one of the holes there was a big sign saying no club longer than a 7 iron. The fairway had also been arranged so that any club shot longer than 150 yds would be lost. short par 4 hole had been turned in to a very short par 5.

    Despite warnings a developer built a load of houses very close to the fairway. After a couple of drives ended up in gardens/windows a court order was issued and the club’s insurers threatened to pull out. Such a Micky Mouse hold spoiled the course and the club closed a few years ago.

  19. Things would have to be very wrong for their to be a problem with Highland Cattle; like all the mountain breeds, their pretty docile.

    (Dairy bulls, on the other hand, are vicious brutes. One of my father’s broke his shoulder and the herdsman’s back)

    It is almost always to do with dogs, cows with calves and dog owners not letting their dogs look after themselves when things turn ugly.

  20. ‘As part of a programme with Natural England, the cattle helped conserve the moorland at Baslow Edge, being well-suited to harsh conditions.’

    Seems like it is public land.

  21. Dairy bulls, on the other hand, are vicious brutes. One of my father’s broke his shoulder and the herdsman’s back

    Our adjoining farm keeps 300 Jerseys, used to make delicious Beechdean ice cream, and a handful of Herefords as a ‘hobby’ for beef. The Hereford bulls are placid (as is typical of the breed), but he tells me they have to get rid of the Jersey bulls at 4 years, as they become unmanageable and quite vicious.

  22. Highland bulls, if allowed to graze with the cows instead of being locked with painful rings in their noses, are not particularly aggressive.
    Anecdata alert: I have on rather more than one occasion walked through a field/hillside and realised that one of the bovines was a bull who ignored me. More particularly: when I was in short trousers my family used to go on walking holidays in the Highlands and one evening the farmer’s daughter, younger than I (mebbe5, mebbe 6), had found a bovine on the side of the road and driven it back to the farm: her father recognised it as “the Bracora Bull” and returned it to the next village where it belonged.
    Dairy cows with calves are much more dangerous

  23. BiND,

    My neighbour has a problem with me firing dangerous projectiles into their garden and windows too. Bloody elf’n’safety gone mad I tell you.

  24. What Ben S said
    My previous parish a noisy but relatively small minority of people who had moved into the flats nearest the church tower and wrote letters to the Rector complaining about the bells being rung on Sunday mornings. [NB The church had been there for the best part of a thousand years before the flats were built and the church was the most visible feature in the neighbourhood when they went to look at the flats.] So when I was getting married I put a letter in the Community newsletter (the Editor was a friend) stating that the church bells would be rung on that Sunday morning and if anyone objected they should write to me or ‘phone me, not the Rector or PCC. Not a dicky bird!
    Anonymous complaints to an elderly Rector – easy: complaints to a youngish neighbour – too much trouble.

  25. One of the biggest scares of my life:

    Thirty-some years ago I was hunting groundhogs on a Virginia farm. I sat in a field for perhaps an hour looking for the fur balls. None showed up, and I decided to leave. As I stood up, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. With a start, I looked behind me.

    There were about 30 cows not twenty feet from me, arranged in a semi-circle. Just staring at me. As said above, I was the most interesting thing of the day for them. They were harmless; I went on about my business ignoring them.

    I still marvel at all those cows approaching to 20 feet of me, and I never heard a thing. I have no idea how long they had been standing there.

  26. In 2 minds about this one.

    If as represented then the walker needs the living shit beating out of him and a large group of nasty blokes wielding pickaxe handles need to crash the HSE office and teach the bastards a lesson they will never forget.

    However –even in this bureaushite soaked age– the account of one anon walker seems insufficient for such an HSE roust. It is –as several have said–possible that the Farmer is using this to cover some caper of his own. And unlikely that he has no other land he could have put them on.

    Some sort of investigation would likely be needed to determine who is going to follow the unfortunate cattle to the slaughterhouse.

    If I had the power the only one you could be sure would be still alive when the dust settled would be the walker’s dog.

  27. The dog is the innocent. Dogs have been attacked by various other beasts since the beginning of dog’s time on Earth. Yet not a single noble canine has ever gone whinging to the British state.

    There are no two-legged innocents where the scummy state is involved.

  28. Ecks, I know that part of the world very well. People walk everywhere. Common, private, National Trust, Chatsworth Estate, it’s irrelevant who (if anyone) owns or leases which bit of land. Most of the animals, which are admittedly mostly sheep, are only enclosed at certain times of year. And there isn’t really any way you can guarantee humans won’t walk through their field when they are. Locals won’t be stupid enough, but not everyone is savvy.

    My money is still on a private grudge here.

  29. For years I went to and from school across pasture occupied by dairy cows – Ayrshires, I imagine. No trouble at all. I don’t remember there ever being calves in the field, which might explain it. Or maybe I’d been told to go the long way round if there were calves in the field.

    I did once have to leg it out a field of stirks, vaulting a hedge to make my escape. My pals all thought it highly amusing.

  30. @ dearieme
    When I was young (many moons ago) Ayreshires were bifocal (dairy and beef) and better-tempered than Friesans which were introduced because the Milk Marketing Board paid solely on quantity, not on quality.

  31. wait, in Britain, people are allowed to walk across land that you own without your permission? …. surely, a walking path on privately owned land is for the owner’s use and not the general public’s use.

    yes, in the USA, there are rights-of-way exceptions for things like accessing public lands when the only access to the public lands cuts across private land (I can walk across the private front and back yard of your privately owned beach house in order to get to the public beach).

    but a general right to just go traipsing over people’s land?
    that’s ridiculous.

  32. If a path has been established over (any legal eagles here?) 20 years without objection, it becomes permanent, and has to be actively extinguished to get rid of it. With people having been wandering around these isles for several thousand years, most have existed for centuries.

    And that’s before Right To Roam legislation came in.

  33. It seems a bit more info has come out now. Looks like I was wrong about the NT being involved, the HSE were talking direct to the farmer, and more than one incident involving the cattle had been reported. HSE have issued a statement:


    Its a bit weasel words IMO – while its perfectly true they may not have ‘demanded the cattle be slaughtered’ I suspect that the ‘discussions’ they were having with the farmer were pretty one sided, and any proposed solutions to prevent further incidents would have been either impractical from a farming perspective, and/or very expensive. I suspect the HSE gave the farmer several ‘options’ that he could take (leaving things as they were not being one) and he decided that the whole thing wasn’t worth the candle and decided to sell them for slaughter. And has apparently replaced them with another breed. Which is ironic, because any cattle can be aggressive, and its a pound to a penny there will be more incidents, maybe even more, if the breeds now in place are Continental ones.

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